When asked the question, "What exactly is the definition of 'good meat'?", Bill Niman (founder of and now ousted from Niman Ranch replied:
This is not my phrase, it’s the Times’s. But here’s the way I see it. It takes a lot to make “good meat” but it isn’t rocket science – it’s more about common sense. “Good meat” is meat from animals who were always treated well, who were given a chance to live in a way that allows them to express their basic natural behaviors, move freely, breathe fresh air, and feel sunshine on their backs and faces. It also comes from animals who were never given growth hormones, fed antibiotics or other drugs or fed meat-by products or other unnatural feeds. Finally, good meat can only come from animals who were provided a swift and painless death.When I read Niman's answer, it is clear he's completely focused on the method of production, not on organoleptic (taste) properties.
I find it interesting that some people producing meat generally considered to taste the best don't farm anything close to the way Mr. Niman suggests.
- Japanese-raised Wagyu cattle: no free movement, fresh air or sunshine - but they taste the best and cost the most. They definitely don't meet Mr. Niman's "good meat" requirements.
- Spanish producers of Iberico increasingly raise them in confinement, even if some get finished outdoors for a few months of their long lives. The Spanish freely use antibiotics and other chemicals. E.g. people feed hogs specially-crafted diets designed to produce the best fat. Whether alpha-tocopherol or copper sulphate are "natural" simply doesn't matter to the Spanish producers.
- Hungarian producers of mangalitsa farrow in modern facilities. Their product is fantastic. They export it to Japan, a country of notoriously quality-sensitive consumers.
A lot of people would like to think that what's "natural", "organic", "local" or whatever is naturally going to taste the best. It not only isn't the case - but one can find examples like confined Wagyu cows versus free-range cows that force people to choose between good-and-unpalatable versus bad-and-world-class.
People have already been forced to choose between what's good and what tastes better - and it even involved Niman Ranch. E.g. a chef chose pork from Cargill (a producer not meeting the "good meat" requirements), because it was better than Niman Ranch's pork.
Another interesting issue involves what the animals themselves want, and whether or not that fits with Mr. Niman's "good meat" criteria. E.g. animals, like humans, like being inside, where it is warm and shielded from the wind. They also like to eat things like ice cream and Cocoa Puffs. When the Spanish producers turn the hogs out on the Montanera to eat acorns and whatever else they can scrounge up, that's probably perceived by the hogs as a reduction in their quality of life. Until that time, they've been in a warm barn, eating concentrates. Just as most people would rather sit inside and eat a bowl of cereal than be outside foraging for raw vegetables and carrion, the hogs probably prefer the easy life.